Waynesville-based nonprofit spotlights WNC storytellers

BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Asheville-based artists Marsha Almodovar, left, and Adama Dembele are among the featured artists in the inaugural Pigeon Community Conversations with Storytellers Series. Almodovar photo by Stephan Pruitt; Dembele photo courtesy of LEAF Global Arts

Many readers outside of Waynesville may not be aware of the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center. But if things this year go as Evan Hatch and his colleagues hope, the nonprofit’s name will be far more widely known and synonymous with bridging gaps, building community and sustaining connections across Western North Carolina.

Hatch, a new board of directors member, is getting the word out about the group’s upcoming programming, namely the inaugural Pigeon Community Conversations with Storytellers Series. The monthly events run April-August and launch Thursday, April 11, 6-7 p.m., with Adama Dembele, a 33rd-generation musician and storyteller from Ivory Coast, West Africa, who’s been a culture keeper with Lake Eden Arts Festival for over a decade.

Hatch calls Dembele “an excellent musical storyteller” and sees the artist’s multifaceted approach as a solid kickoff to a series with ambitious goals and a second year already planned.

Tell it on the mountain

Hatch has a background in arts administration and collaborated with the PCMDC in his previous role as executive director of Folkmoot USA. Located in the former Pigeon Street School, which served as an African American elementary school from 1957-63, the PCMDC began as the Pigeon Community Development Club in 2001. It became a standalone nonprofit organization in 2009.

“It’s a pretty special organization serving underrepresented communities in WNC,” says Hatch, who accepted the nonprofit’s invitation to become a board member in November. “We’re known for our summer student programs and after-school programs, our food bank work with MANNA and our food-centric fundraiser events.”

When he joined the board, there was a request that PCMDC start facing the larger community through programming. Looking for inspiration, the board gravitated toward a pair of 2023 offerings that proved particularly impactful.

Last summer, PCMDC hosted an event featuring PCMDC program director Latausha “Tausha” Forney in dialogue with award-winning comics writer Andrew Aydin, who splits his time between Hendersonville and Washington, D.C. The former digital director and policy adviser to the late Congressman John Lewis, Aydin co-authored the civil rights leader’s three-part graphic novel series March.

CONVERSATION STARTER: Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center program director Latausha “Tausha” Forney, left, facilitates a discussion with author David Joy last September at the nonprofit’s Waynesville home. Photo by by Kasey Steffan

“He’s a National Book Award-winning graphic novel writer, and he came and talked about comic books, and we’re like, ‘Man, this is killer,’” Hatch says. He adds that by speaking on an art form largely associated with teen and tween readers, Aydin helped show young people that “there was value in their storytelling.”

The second milestone program took place in September with David Joy. The Jackson County-based writer spoke with Forney about his latest novel, Those We Thought We Knew. Hatch says the author’s ability to bring meaning to Black and white experiences through his storytelling made a big impact on attendees.

“It was a successful event, so we thought, ‘Let’s bring in representatives of the diverse, underserved communities who use storytelling in some way or another as a way of explaining their culture or communicating it,’” Hatch says. “I knew that we could have this big thing and revisit it every year. And we could count anything from musical storytellers to rappers to spoken-word poets to children’s story authors to painters. There’s a lot of different ways of telling stories.”

Storied guests

The inaugural edition of Conversations with Storytellers Series primarily features artists with previous ties to the PCMDC or individuals Hatch knew through his connections with LEAF Co-Executive Director and founder Jennifer Pickering. In addition to Dembele, Pickering linked Hatch with Marsha Almodovar, an Asheville-based mixed-media painter who uses her art to highlight social justice issues. Almodovar will be the star of the Thursday, July 11, installment.

Two months prior, on Thursday, May 9, WNC native Ann Miller Woodford will discuss her recent work in a long-running project that involves chronicling the history and culture of African Americans in the far western counties of North Carolina.

“She is an oral historian and is collecting the stories of Black people in Waynesville,” Hatch explains.

Thursday, June 13, brings Asheville’s DeWayne Barton to town. The poet, spoken-word performer and visual artist uses numerous forms of creative storytelling, yet is perhaps best known for his Hood Huggers International Tours, which teach participants about historically significant places and events in Asheville’s Black community.

The series concludes Thursday, Aug. 8, with author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, whom Hatch says has a strong connection with Waynesville through local bookstore Blue Ridge Books. Her 2020 debut novel, Even As We Breathe, made Clapsaddle the first enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to publish a novel.

“People think about storytelling as a traditional art form. What a lot of folks don’t know is that traditions change as people change, so with influences of new people or additions of new technology, the capacity for storytelling is going to change,” Hatch says. “But still, there will be a need to communicate personal stories through whatever medium is out there. We just want to say that it’s all valid and that it’s all pretty darn cool if you come into it with an open mind.”

Having showcased her gifts while in conversation with Joy and Aydin for their events, Forney will lead the series.

“She is a great interviewer, “ Hatch says. “She’s well known in the community and just has this real good gut for asking the right questions to the right people — and being well informed because she’s so well prepared.”

He adds that the conversations are casual and will allow for audience participation. Looking ahead, the 2025 edition will expand to a six-person series, with a lineup announcement slated for early December.

“The idea is to start humbly … and get people excited about it so they can help to grow it,” Hatch says.

Fly on

In addition to the Conversations with Storytellers Series, the nonprofit has other significant happenings occurring this year.

Through funding from the Waynesville Public Art Commission, PCMDC will install a permanent mural on its street-facing wall. The artwork will be created by muralist Kristy McCarthy from New York City with ample assistance from the local community.

“[McCarthy] is going to come down, she’s going to do interviews, she’s going to plan out with the Pigeon Center some of the imagery that she wants to use in this mural,” Hatch says. “There will be a public arts day where people come out and work on this mural — actually work on the art that will be put onto the wall. And then it should be dedicated in June.”

The PCMDC is also producing its second volume of Lift Every Voice, a community oral history project of African American personal experience narratives in Haywood County, slated for publication in the winter. Plans are also in place for a community cookbook featuring favorite recipes from local residents. But for now, the nonprofit’s focus is firmly on the Conversations with Storytellers Series.

“We welcome everyone to come out. These are all family programs, appropriate for everybody. And I think when you walk through the doors of Pigeon, a new audience will be surprised at some of the amazing stuff that’s happened there and the energy that’s in that building,” Hatch says. “Over the next couple of years, we’ve got even more projects that are coming up. And I just want to see it as this cultural powerhouse, and I think everybody should do everything they can to support it.”

To learn more, visit avl.mx/dia.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.